Rev. Dr Mario Fischer is general secretary of the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE). He shared reflections on the interconnectedness of churches, the World Council of Churches (WCC) 11th Assembly, and what challenges and inspires him the most.
In today’s world, why do you think it so important for all of us to “be the church together?”
Rev. Dr Fischer: As churches we are interconnected in manifold ways. Public actions of one church affect other churches too, since many people do not differentiate in their perception between different denominations and churches. A self-sufficing church that wants to live for itself doesn’t meet the demands and the mission of Christ. As CPCE we understand church communion as an adequate model of church unity. By declaring church communion the “participating churches are convinced that together they participate in the on Church of Jesus Christ and that the Lord frees them for and calls them to common service”. (Leuenberg Agreement 34) Church communion wants to be realized in the life of the churches and congregations and looks beyond itself. The church is communion and a communion of churches is an expression of the church. The term “being church together” does not only underline the fact that church communion expressed in practice has organizational implications, and implications for church law, but the fact that churches find various ways to demonstrate the visibility of their unity.
Now that the new date for the WCC 11th Assembly has been announced, would you like to offer your perspective on what you most look forward to in this global convening?
Rev. Dr Fischer: I am very glad that the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches will take place for the third time in Europe and for the first time in Germany. I hope that the delegates and guests will not only encounter among themselves but also with people and churches in the region and in Europe. I am proud that the CPCE regional group “Conference of the Churches on the Rhine” is engaged in hosting the assembly too. In this particular border area along the River Rhine where people have a long history of armed conflicts, the churches contributed to a way of overcoming hatred and violence and bear witness to reconciliation. Therefore, the assembly theme “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity” is well chosen. The theme meets a church situation in Germany where even the biggest church meeting, the Kirchentag, doesn’t use explicit Christian vocabulary for its themes anymore. I hope that the ease of speaking about God’s love and Christian message as it is experienced in ecumenical gatherings sends out rays to the regional context. As CPCE we like to carry our model of unity in reconciled diversity and almost 50 years’ experience of living church communion into the assembly in Karlsruhe.
What has been the biggest challenge for the CPCE during this unprecedented time? And what inspires you most these days?
Rev. Dr Fischer: As many ecumenical bodies even the CPCE lives from personal encounters. That has changed during the last months when we were only able to meet online. Our understanding of personal interaction and presence has altered. The COVID-19 crisis has also raised the issue of celebrating the Lord’s Supper online and at home. A CPCE study process on the “Practice and Theology of the Lord’s Supper” will address this topic. If the commission of Christians is well summarized as commission to worship (leiturgia), to witness (martyria), to serve (diakonia) and to life in community (koinonia) then we can observe that the CPCE emphasized right from the outset the dimensions of leiturgia in worship, of martyria in theological discussion and witness, and of koinonia in the living together of churches and its ecclesiological reflection. The aspect of diakonia was underdeveloped in the history of the CPCE. During the COVID-19 crisis the CPCE for the first time launched an appeal for an Easter collection to consider and help those particularly at risk from the pandemic on the outskirts of Europe. I hope that our church communion becomes more and more a communion of witness and service in the Europe of today. I wish that our churches live their “being church together” based on the principle of mutual solidarity and reflect together what it means to be diaconal church and what shall be the diaconal aspect of our church communion.